I have long been a fan of Malcolm Gladwell, whose New Yorker articles are reproduced on his site. What I like is the way that in his writing he comes up with fresh insights and unexpected patterns of connections. In one of his latest pieces Group Think:What does ‘Saturday Night Live’ have in common with German philosophy?”“, drawing on Randall Collin’s book, “The Sociology of Philosophies”, he notes that:
“Collins’s point is not that innovation attracts groups but that innovation is found in groups: that it tends to arise out of social interaction?conversation, validation, the intimacy of proximity, and the look in your listener’s eye that tells you you’re onto something.”
He goes on to talk about a group surrounding Erasmus Darwin, who, as described by Jenny Uglow in her book, The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World”“, illustrate the importance of informal, social interaction in the process of innovation.
“What were they doing? Darwin, in a lovely phrase, called it “philosophical laughing,” which was his way of saying that those who depart from cultural or intellectual consensus need people to walk beside them and laugh with them to give them confidence.”
After I first read this I went round confidently misquoting my discovery of “a conspiracy of laughter” to any one who would listen. But as I have found before sometimes a misquote can be as telling as the real thing. I think in this time of what Seth Godin calls the Fundamentalists – people who “believe that they have found the one and only truth, and they can’t abide changing old rules in light of new data.”, we need as many conspiracies of laughter as we can find.